8 Hot Albums, from Daft Punk to Boards of Canada


Daft Punk
Random Access Memories
Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have delivered the coolest album of 2013; however, “cool” in this case means the color spectrum. What was anticipated as the summer’s party album actually contains a melancholic streak sitting in stark contrast to Daft Punk’s first tweaked-out albums of Chicago House, filter disco, and New York garage. That’s because this new kosmiche-prog-funk-yacht rock album challenges the Daft Punk mystique by refocusing on the late-’70s Eurodisco influences of its authors, not what previously defined their avatars. Meticulously recorded to the last decay tail with collaborators/session musicians rather than sequencers, mid-tempo grooves revolve around rectangular melodies and a serene jitter.

Various Artists
True Blood: Music from the HBO Original Series, Volume 4
Vampire lovers already know that the producers of True Blood are brilliant curators of old- and new-school music, fusing the raw power of blues and punk with electronica and modern pop. On “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” haunting keys and echoing synths make a dark backdrop for the great Eric Burdon dueting with Jenny Lewis. Where else will you find rare Flaming Lips on a record with Howlin’ Wolf? Or Mobley doing “I Wanna Be Your Man”?

Boards of Canada
Tomorrow’s Harvest
Like toxic chemicals pouring on to an already polluted shore, Boards of Canada blends wave upon wave of unsettling, churning, but always fascinating sounds in their murky collages. Tomorrow’s Harvest is in keeping with the Scottish sibling duo’s oeuvre, cryptic vocal samples adorning layers of queasy synths and collapsible rhythms. A soulless voice counts off in “Telepath,” horror flutes fill the void in “Cold Earth,” Oldfieldian loops and shattered vocal samples spin “Split Your Infinities.” Tomorrow’s Harvest trades in the sunlight for a dystopian world of solace in sadness.

Primal Scream
More Light

Achieving one masterstroke per decade, Britannia’s avatar of oversaturation revisits the high watermark on this 10th album. With producer David Holmes and tone mangler Kevin Shields, Bobby Gillespie and Co. achieve a woozy, bristling spiritual successor to 2000’s XTRMNTR. There are chiming, hardpanned nods to early Stones and Beatles, and saxophone skronk ties in the Stooges and ’70s-era Bowie, but the main references— psychedelia, motorik, urban soul, dubby beats, political unrest— refine the band’s own study in unshackled empowerment.

The Orb featuring Lee Scratch Perry
More Tales From the Observatory
“I want to smell your nose [and] put on your clothes,” Lee Scratch Perry intones in “Tight Interlude” from More Tales, his bizarre commentary mirrored by The Orb’s scattershot melodic bits and bleeps. Fourto- the-floor grooves and shimmering samples are putty in The Orb’s hands, but its Perry’s daft ramblings that keep it entertaining. More Tales suffers from static grooves, lacking the buoyancy of The Orb’s best work, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to a smoking spliff.

Classically trained studio buff Emika brings her musical worlds together on her second album, Dva. In a shadowy space lined with beats that sound like tiptoes, her native Prague Philharmonic Orchestra provides the dark strings laced through “Dem Worlds” and “Hush Interlude.” Whooshing vocals on “She Beats” bring warmth to the robotics while shuddering vocals hide amongst the hiccupping synths of “Sing To Me,” and “Searching” is R&B gone electro. Her unexpected cover of “Wicked Game”—downright threatening.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band
That’s It!
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been spreading the joy of traditional New Orleans jazz for 50 years and counting, but That’s It! is actually the group’s first ever album of all original music. Written by the band and produced by artistic director Ben Jaffe with Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), these tunes don’t necessarily break new ground, but they give the group new creative freedom, and add to their already rich and brilliant careers as virtuosos and torch bearers.